Annual-Cycle Movements and Phenology of Black Scoters in Eastern North America

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Sea ducks exhibit complex movement patterns throughout their annual cycle; most species use distinct molting and staging sites during migration and disjunct breeding and wintering sites. Although research on black scoters (Melanitta americana) has investigated movements and habitat selection during winter, little is known about their annual-cycle movements. We used satellite telemetry to identify individual variation in migratory routes and breeding areas for black scoters wintering along the Atlantic Coast, to assess migratory connectivity among wintering, staging, breeding, and molt sites, and to examine effects of breeding site attendance on movement patterns and phenology. Black scoters occupied wintering areas from Canadian Maritime provinces to the southeastern United States. Males used an average of 2.5 distinct winter areas compared to 1.1 areas for females, and within-winter movements averaged 1,256 km/individual. Individuals used an average of 2.1 staging sites during the 45-day pre-breeding migration period, and almost all were detected in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Males spent less time at breeding sites and departed them earlier than females. During post-breeding migration, females took approximately 25 fewer days than males to migrate from breeding sites to molt and staging sites, and then wintering areas. Most individuals used molt sites in James and Hudson bays before migrating directly to coastal wintering sites, which took approximately 11 days and covered 1,524 km. Males tended to arrive at wintering areas 10 days earlier than females. Individuals wintering near one another did not breed closer together than expected by chance, suggesting weak spatial structuring of the Atlantic population. Females exhibited greater fidelity (4.5 km) to previously used breeding sites compared to males (60 km). A substantial number of birds bred west of Hudson Bay in the Barrenlands, suggesting this area is used more widely than believed previously. Hudson and James bays provided key habitat for black scoters that winter along the Atlantic Coast, with most individuals residing for >30% of their annual cycle in these bays. Relative to other species of sea duck along the Atlantic Coast, the Atlantic population of black scoter is more dispersed and mobile during winter but is more concentrated during migration. These results could have implications for future survey efforts designed to assess population trends of black scoters. © 2021 The Wildlife Society.

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Journal of Wildlife Management